Political MoJo

Listen to a Honduran Coyote Tell You All About Last Year's Child Migrant Crisis

| Thu Jun. 4, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

"You think the gringos are going to block that border? They're not going to block it, man."

So says "Carlos," a Honduran smuggler interviewed in the latest story from Radio Ambulante, the Spanish-language podcast created by novelist and journalist Daniel Alarcón. In the fascinating "El Coyote," Carlos discusses his own past as an undocumented immigrant in the United States, his road into the smuggling business, and how much money people like him actually make. (As he puts it: "You only keep 25 percent. If you charge $7,000, you are only left with $1,800.")

But what struck me about Carlos' monologue was how he describes last year's child migrant crisis, when nearly 70,000 kids—mostly from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—were apprehended at the US-Mexico border, many without even trying to evade Customs and Border Protection agents. His goal, he implies, was just to get kids across the border; parents wanted them to be caught by CBP because, as minors traveling without a guardian, they'd have a chance to apply for different forms of deportation relief and potentially stay in the United States for good.

Here's what he had to say (emphasis mine):

What there was was an avalanche of young people, kids running away from our countries. We could tell you it was a wonderful time. You got the Central American kids, made them cross the Rio Bravo, and they were caught by Immigration…It's less money but it's safe money, because the parent wants you to hand the kid off to Immigration. So it's a safe bet. Now, ask me, what do the governments in our countries do about that? Nothing.

Meanwhile, the number of unaccompanied child migrants caught at the border this year is down 48 percent compared to the same time last year, thanks in large part to Mexico's new, US-influenced crackdown on Central American migrants.

Check out the entire "El Coyote" segment, updated Tuesday with English subtitles, above.

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Switching to the Metric System Is Officially a Presidential Campaign Issue

| Wed Jun. 3, 2015 6:45 PM EDT

Lincoln Chafee kicked off his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination on Wednesday in Virginia by promising to fight climate change, curb extra-judicial assassinations, and switch the United States to the metric system.

Wait, what?

The Rhode Islander, who served in the Senate as a Republican before joining the Democratic party after being elected governor, unveiled his left-leaning, if idiosyncratic, agenda in a wide-ranging address at George Mason University. His continued opposition to the Iraq War, which he voted against authorizing as a senator, could put him in conflict with the party's front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As a senator, Clinton was an early supporter of the invasion, though she has since called it a mistake.

National defense was just one area in which Chafee advised heeding the wisdom of the international community. (He likewise proposed ending capital punishment entirely, and praised Nebraska for its recent ban.)

But then Chafee went a few feet—er, meters—further:

Earlier I said, let's be bold. Here's a bold embrace of internationalism: Let's join the rest of the world and go metric. I happened to live in Canada as they completed the process. Believe me, it is easy. It doesn't take long before 34 degrees is hot. Only Myanmar, Liberia, and the United States aren't metric, and it it'll help our economy!

Finally, a presidential candidate with a foolproof plan to bring down rising temperatures.

Elizabeth Warren's "Most Watched" Video Is Absolutely Fantastic

| Tue Jun. 2, 2015 6:05 PM EDT

Last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren participated in a conference hosted by tech website Re/Code, where she was asked a policy question about infrastructure spending. What followed was an incredibly powerful response that touched upon the Massachusetts senator's signature issues—student loans, misplaced Washington interests, and the systematic problems hurting middle class Americans.

"The only way we get change is when enough people in this country say, 'I'm mad as hell and I'm fed up and I'm not going to do this anymore,'" Warren said. "'You are not going to represent me in Washington, DC, if you are not willing to pass a meaningful infrastructure bill. If you are not willing to refinance student loan interest rates and stop dragging in billions of dollars in profits off the backs of kids who otherwise can't afford to go to college. If you don't say you're going to fund the NIH and the NISF, because that is our future.' We have to make these issues salient and not just wonky."

The video is now officially Warren's most watched video, according to her digital director. Watch below:

(h/t Vox)

Google's New Diversity Stats Are Only Slightly Less Embarrassing Than They Were Last Year

| Tue Jun. 2, 2015 4:36 PM EDT

Around this time last year, Google shocked Silicon Valley by voluntarily releasing statistics on the diversity of its workforce. The move helped shame other large tech companies into doing the same, and the picture that emerged wasn't pretty: In most cases, only 10 percent of the companies' overall employees were black or Latino, compared to 27 percent in the US workforce as a whole. For its own part, Google admitted that "we're miles from where we want to be," and pledged to do more to cultivate minority and female tech talent.

Now Google has an update: Its 2015 diversity stats, released yesterday, show that it has moved inches, not miles, toward a workforce that reflects America. The representation of female techies ticked up by 1 percentage point (from 17 to 18 percent), Asians gained 1 point, and whites, though still the majority, slipped by 1 point. Otherwise, the numbers are unchanged:

Google

"With an organization our size, year-on-year growth and meaningful change is going to take time," Nancy Lee, Google's vice president of people operations, told the Guardian. Last year, Google spent $115 million on diversity initiatives and dispatched its own engineers to historically black colleges and universities to teach introductory computer science courses and help graduating students prepare for job searches. But unlike Intel, another big tech company that has prioritized diversity, Google has not set firm goals for diversifying its talent pool.

"While every company cannot match Intel's ambitious plan, they can set concrete, measurable goals, targets, and timetables," said a statement from the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who last year played a key role in convincing Google and other companies to disclose their diversity stats. "If they don't measure it, they don't mean it."

Mike Huckabee Wishes He Lied About Being Transgender So He Could Have Showered with High School Girls

| Tue Jun. 2, 2015 2:17 PM EDT

While speaking at a religious convention in Nashville earlier this year, Mike Huckabee's trademark candor reached a new level of absurdity, as he joked about wishing he "could have felt like a woman" back in high school…in order to get access to female locker rooms.

"Now I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE," Huckabee said on stage at the 2015 National Religious Broadcasters Convention back in February. "I'm pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, 'Coach, I think I'd rather shower with the girls today.'"

The remarks, reported by BuzzFeed on Tuesday, were meant to warn the crowd about Americans' growing tolerance of the transgender community and  support for laws protecting transgender people's access to the restroom of their choice.

"For those who do not think that we are under threat, simply recognize the fact that we are now in city after city watching ordinances say that your seven-year-old daughter—if she goes into the restroom—cannot be offended and you can’t be offended if she's greeted there by a 42-year-old man who feels more like a woman than he does a man," he said.

For more on the conservative assault on where transgender people use the bathroom, check out our primer here.

SCOTUS Delivers Good News for Abusive Trolls

| Mon Jun. 1, 2015 12:09 PM EDT

Trolls and libertarians rejoice. In a highly watched case that explored the tough question of what distinguishes protected free speech from illegal threats, the Supreme Court on Monday made it harder for the government to prosecute individuals who are making threatening statements toward others.

The court voided the conviction of Anthony Elonis, who was found guilty of issuing unlawful threats over Facebook with rants that referred to killing his estranged wife. Elonis argued that his posts, which were presented as rap lyrics, were a form of expression protected by the First Amendment. He was convicted in federal district court in Pennsylvania under the "reasonable person" standard: Would a reasonable person consider Elonis' posts threatening?

In a 7-2 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts ruled that the reasonable person test wasn't sufficient for a criminal conviction like this one. Avoiding touchy First Amendment questions, the court determined that Elonis' posts should have been evaluated under a tougher standard that takes his mental state into account. That is, did he intend to follow through on his threats or did he know that his words would be seen as a threat?

"Elonis's conviction was premised solely on how his posts would be viewed by a reasonable person, a standard…inconsistent with the conventional criminal conduct requirement of 'awareness of some wrongdoing,'" Roberts wrote. He noted that a criminal conviction could only be supported "if the defendant transmits a communication for the purpose of issuing a threat or with knowledge that the communication will be viewed as a threat."

The case presented a difficult First Amendment question pitting freedom of expression against the freedom to not be threatened with violence. But the justices ducked the matter. The ruling was predicated on a statutory interpretation.

Elonis was sentenced to 44 months in prison for threatening to harm and even kill his estranged wife in Facebook posts—threats that left his wife afraid for her safety. Elonis fought the charges, arguing that he could not be imprisoned because he never intended to hurt his wife. A criminal conviction for someone who had no intent to harm, he contended, violated the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of speech. But the trial court disagreed and instructed the jury to use the reasonable-person standard.

The federal government argued that the reasonable person test is the best way to determine whether a statement is a threat. Its lawyers maintained that even if there is no intent to harm, such threats can severely disrupt the lives of those people targeted.

Civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, supported Elonis, fearing an encroachment on free-speech rights. Advocates for victims of domestic violence, though, argued that victims of domestic abuse "suffer the devastating psychological and economic effects of threats of violence, which their abusers deliver more and more often via social media," according to an amicus brief. This brief, filed by the National Network to End Domestic Violence and a number of state-based anti-domestic-violence groups, argued that threats are often a precursor to actual violence.

The Elonis case was argued before the court in early December and the justices took a full six months to decide the case. Roberts was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and the court's liberal wing. Justice Samuel Alito joined in part and dissented in part. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented.

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Why Bernie Sanders Was Talking About "Fifty Shades of Grey" on "Meet the Press"

| Mon Jun. 1, 2015 11:02 AM EDT

This wasn't the way Bernie Sanders expected to conclude the first week of his presidential campaign—comparing a 1972 essay he wrote for the Vermont Freeman to E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey. But the article, first reported in Mother Jones, quickly caught fire because of its description of a woman who "fantasizes being raped," and by the weekend, Sanders had taken steps to renounce it.

Per Bloomberg:

"This is a piece of fiction that I wrote in 1972, I think," the Vermont Senator said, appearing on Meet the Press. "That was 43 years ago. It was very poorly written and if you read it, what it was dealing with was gender stereotypes, why some men like to oppress women, why other women like to be submissive, you know, something like Fifty Shades of Grey."

But if the 1972 essay ruined his media tour, it didn't do anything to suppress the enthusiasm of the progressive activists Sanders aims to make his base. Sanders spent his first week of the campaign speaking to overflow crowds across the Midwest (3,000 people in Minneapolis) and New Hampshire. And, evidently, he's turned some heads. Here's the New York Times:

DES MOINES — A mere 240 people live in the rural northeast Iowa town of Kensett, so when more than 300 crowded into the community center on Saturday night to hear Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, many driving 50 miles, the cellphones of Democratic leaders statewide began to buzz.

Kurt Meyer, the county party chairman who organized the event, sent a text message to Troy Price, the Iowa political director for Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mr. Price called back immediately.

"Objects in your rearview mirror are closer than they appear," Mr. Meyer said he had told Mr. Price about Mr. Sanders. "Mrs. Clinton had better get out here."

Clinton's strategy, to this point, has been to act as if her other prospective Democratic primary opponents don't exist. Sanders might have just changed that calculus.

Beau Biden, the Vice President's Son, Has Died

| Sat May 30, 2015 10:15 PM EDT

RIP:

Joseph Robinette “Beau” Biden III, the son of Vice President Biden and former state attorney general of Delaware, died Saturday after battling brain cancer for several years.

Biden, 46, the oldest son of the vice president and the rising star of a family dynasty, had been admitted recently to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington as he fought the cancer, a battle that his father largely kept private in the last weeks as his son clung to his life.

So sad.

Here's the Vice President's statement:

It is with broken hearts that Hallie, Hunter, Ashley, Jill and I announce the passing of our husband, brother and son, Beau, after he battled brain cancer with the same integrity, courage and strength he demonstrated every day of his life.

The entire Biden family is saddened beyond words. We know that Beau’s spirit will live on in all of us—especially through his brave wife, Hallie, and two remarkable children, Natalie and Hunter.

Beau's life was defined by service to others. As a young lawyer, he worked to establish the rule of law in war-torn Kosovo. A major in the Delaware National Guard, he was an Iraq War veteran and was awarded the Bronze Star. As Delaware’s Attorney General, he fought for the powerless and made it his mission to protect children from abuse.

More than his professional accomplishments, Beau measured himself as a husband, father, son and brother. His absolute honor made him a role model for our family. Beau embodied my father's saying that a parent knows success when his child turns out better than he did.

In the words of the Biden family: Beau Biden was, quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known.

And the statement from the President:

Michelle and I are grieving tonight. Beau Biden was a friend of ours. His beloved family – Hallie, Natalie, and Hunter – are friends of ours. And Joe and Jill Biden are as good as friends get.

Beau took after Joe. He studied the law, like his dad, even choosing the same law school. He chased a life of public service, like his dad, serving in Iraq and as Delaware’s Attorney General. Like his dad, Beau was a good, big-hearted, devoutly Catholic and deeply faithful man, who made a difference in the lives of all he touched – and he lives on in their hearts.

But for all that Beau Biden achieved in his life, nothing made him prouder; nothing made him happier; nothing claimed a fuller focus of his love and devotion than his family.

Just like his dad.

Joe is one of the strongest men we’ve ever known. He’s as strong as they come, and nothing matters to him more than family. It’s one of the things we love about him. And it is a testament to Joe and Jill – to who they are – that Beau lived a life that was full; a life that mattered; a life that reflected their reverence for family.

The Bidens have more family than they know. In the Delaware they love. In the Senate Joe reveres. Across this country that he has served for more than forty years. And they have a family right here in the White House, where hundreds of hearts ache tonight – for Hallie, Natalie, and Hunter; for Joe and for Jill; for Beau’s brother, Hunter; his sister, Ashley, and for the entire Biden clan.

“I have believed the best of every man,” wrote the poet William Butler Yeats, “And find that to believe it is enough to make a bad man show him at his best or even a good man swing his lantern higher.”

Beau Biden believed the best of us all. For him, and for his family, we swing our lanterns higher.

Michelle and I humbly pray for the good Lord to watch over Beau Biden, and to protect and comfort his family here on Earth.

And this old tweet from Beau is heartbreaking:

Martin O'Malley Is Running for President. Here's What You Need to Know

| Sat May 30, 2015 10:56 AM EDT

The wait is over. Martin O'Malley is running for president. The former Maryland governor formally kicked off his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination on Saturday in Baltimore, the city he served as mayor for six years. O'Malley, who has been publicly weighing a bid for years, is aiming to present himself as a solidly progressive alternative to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. But it's going to be an uphill slog—in the most recent Quinnipiac poll, he received just 1 percent—56 points behind Clinton, and 14 points behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was an independent until he entered the 2016 Democratic contest.

Here are five things you should read about O'Malley right now:

  • He's the "best manager in government today," according to a 2013 profile by Haley Sweetland Edwards at the Washington Monthly:

The truth is, what makes O'Malley stand out is not his experience, his gravitas, nor his familiarity to voters (Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden crush him in those regards). Nor is it exactly his policies or speeches (New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, both rumored presidential aspirants, have cultivated similar CVs). Nor is it that he plays in a band. Nor is it even the Atlantic's breathless claim last year that he has "the best abs" in politics. (Beneath a photo of the fit governor participating in the Maryland Special Olympics' annual Polar Bear Plunge, the author gushed, "What are they putting in the water in Maryland?") Instead, what makes O'Malley unique as a politician is precisely the skill that was on display in that windowless conference room in downtown Annapolis: he is arguably the best manager working in government today.

That may not seem like a very flashy title—at first blush, "Best Manager" sounds more like a booby prize than a claim a politician might ride to the White House. But in an era where the very idea of government is under assault, a politician’s capacity to deliver on his or her promises, to actually make the bureaucracy work, is an underappreciated skill.

  • He pursued a tough-on-crime policing strategy as mayor of Baltimore, according to a recent Washington Post article:

It was as a crime-busting mayor some 15 years ago that O'Malley first gained national attention. Although he is positioning himself as a progressive alternative to Hillary Clinton, O'Malley also touts a police crackdown during his time as mayor that led to a stark reduction in drug violence and homicides as one of his major achievements.

Yet some civic leaders and community activists in Baltimore portray O'Malley’s policing policies in troubling terms. The say the "zero-tolerance" approach mistreated young black men even as it helped dramatically reduce crime, fueling a deep mistrust of law enforcement that flared anew last week when [Freddie] Gray died after suffering a spinal injury while in police custody.

  • He's obsessed with the War of 1812 and discussed said obsession in an interview with the Daily Beast's Ben Jacobs last September, after dressing up in an 1812-vintage uniform and mounting a horse:

Win, lose, or draw, O'Malley said he is enthusiastic about the bicentennial and has read up on past commemorations to prepare. He recalled for The Daily Beast a 100-year-old Baltimore Sun editorial about the centennial in 1914 and searched excitedly through his iPad for it. PBS will broadcast the event nationwide on Saturday night, and it will feature what is planned to be the largest ever mass singing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" and an outdoor concert in Baltimore that will include a rock opera about the War of 1812, and O'Malley's own band, which he referred to simply as "a small little warm-up band of Irish extraction."

  • Though he was the model for the character of Baltimore Mayor Tommy Carcetti on the HBO series The Wire, he is not a huge fan of the show or its creator, David Simon, who described an awkward encounter with the governor last year on an Acela train:

This fellow was at the four-top table immediately behind me. I clocked him as we left New York, but as he is a busy man, and as most of our previous encounters have been a little edgy, I told myself to let well enough alone. I answered a few more emails, looked at some casting tapes on the laptop, checked the headlines. And still, with all of that done, we were only just south of Philadelphia.

I texted my son: "On the southbound Acela. Marty O'Malley sitting just behind me," then joking, "Do I set it off?"

A moment later, a 20-year-old diplomatic prodigy fired back a reply: "Buy him a beer."

...I stood up, noticed that Mr. O'Malley was sipping a Corona, and I walked to the cafe car to get another just like it. I came back, put it on the table next to its mate, and said, simply, "You’ve had a tough week." My reference, of course, was to the governor's dustup with the White House over the housing of juvenile immigrants in Maryland, which became something of a spitting contest by midweek.

Mr. O'Malley smiled, said thanks, and I went back to my seat to inform my son that the whole of the State Department could do no better than he. Several minutes later, the governor of my state called me out and smacked the seat next to him.

"Come on, Dave," he said, "we're getting to be old men at this point. Sit, talk."

  • Writing for the Atlantic in December, Molly Ball dubbed O'Malley, "the most ignored candidate of 2016." Another takeaway from the piece, which chronicled his trip to an Annapolis homeless-prevention center that provides job training, might be that he tries too hard:

"I love kale," O'Malley told the chef, Linda Vogler, a middle-aged woman with blond bangs peeking out from a paper toque [who was teaching a cooking class]. "Kale's the new superfood!"

"We're learning quinoa next," Vogler said.

"You're going to teach what? Keen-wa?," O'Malley asked, genuinely puzzled. "What's keen-wa?"

"It looks like birdseed," she replied, hurrying on with the lesson. As the class counted off the seconds it took to boil a tomato, O'Malley changed their "One Mississippi" chant to "One Maryland! Two Maryland!"

A New Poll Has Good News for Pro-Choicers

| Fri May 29, 2015 1:07 PM EDT

After seven years on the outs, choice is back. For the first time since 2008, significantly more Americans identify as pro-choice (50 percent) than pro-life (44 percent), according to a Gallup poll released Friday.

"This is the first time since 2008 that the pro-choice position has had a statistically significant lead in Americans' abortion views," the survey notes. In the intervening years, Americans were split fairly evenly on the issue of abortion—except in 2012, when pro-life sentiment outpaced pro-choice views 50 percent to 41 percent.

The poll found that in the past three years, women have become more pro-choice (54 percent) than men (46 percent). Since 2012, Democrats, Republicans and independents have all become increasingly pro-choice. But Democrats show the biggest long-term jump in pro-choice views, from 55 percent in 2001 to 68 percent today. By contrast, 30 percent of Republicans were pro-choice in 2001 and 31 percent identify as pro-choice today—a statistically insignificant change.

The years since the last pro-choice peak in 2008 have been rough for abortion rights advocates. Republican legislatures across the country have sought to roll back access to abortions—banning the procedure after 20 weeks (and even earlier in some cases), requiring additional doctor visits and ultrasounds, and placing onerous regulations on clinics that forced many to shut their doors. Gallup didn't touch on these issues, simply noting that "the momentum for the pro-life position that began when Barack Obama took office has yielded to a pro-choice rebound."

Gallup raised the possibility that abortion views are riding on the coattails of a "broader liberal shift in Americans' ideology of late" that "could mean the recent pro-choice expansion has some staying power."